Born and raised in Austria, Roland Vogl fell in love with California almost from the moment he arrived in 1999 as a student at Stanford Law School. In particular, he was drawn to the entrepreneurial ethos of Stanford's home base of Silicon Valley.
"The idea of being in Silicon Valley and being immersed in the gung-ho spirit where people solve problems—not so much by policy and lawmaking but by building new systems—really appealed to me," says Vogl, a 2017 Legal Rebels Trailblazer.
He worked for a short time as a copyright and intellectual property lawyer at Fenwick & West before he returned to Stanford in 2003 as a teaching fellow for a newly created international LLM degree program in law, science and technology.
“That became very contagious to me, and maybe it awakened the entrepreneurial gene in me,” he says. “I started wanting to build stuff and started two startups myself—one was a garage project; one was CodeX.”
Vogl co-founded CodeX—the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics in 2008 and currently is the executive director. In his words, CodeX functions as a network for people who want to use the power of technology to change and improve the way the legal system works. Just don’t call it an incubator.
“We may be an incubator of ideas, but it was never part of our mission or charter to be an incubator in the traditional Silicon Valley sense,” Vogl says. “We became viewed as one because a lot of the people in our inner circle are very entrepreneurial and started their own startups.”
Some of the legal technology startups that have their roots at CodeX include legal analytics company Lex Machina; legal analytics and research company Ravel Law; and LawGives, an online community that allows people with legal needs to connect with lawyers. Vogl co-founded another CodeX spinoff: the Stanford Intellectual Property Exchange, which allows users to track and manage their copyright licenses.
Vogl understands that living and working in Silicon Valley can give him a bit of myopia when it comes to the transformative power of technology.
“There’s so many exciting things happening, and CodeX is a place where a lot of it is happening,” he says. “Then you go out and talk to people in the real world—especially at law firms—and there’s not a lot of innovation. At best, there’s incremental change.
“There is a bit of a disconnect between the legal disruption rhetoric and what we see is actually happening in the real world,” he says.
CodeX is focusing on computational law, as well as mechanizing and automating legal processes.
“I see it as the TurboTax approach to the law,” he says. “We’re already seeing smart contracts, self-executing contracts based in ‘blockchain,’ and ‘chatbots’ that can help users navigate specific areas of the law, like immigration or traffic law.”
When he’s not pursuing that, he likes to indulge in his other passion: soaking up as much of California as he can. “My wife and I have three little kids, and we like to go to the California beaches,” Vogl says. “We also like going to Santa Cruz and Lake Tahoe. As such, I’m currently in the market for a camper van.”